[Today’s entry comes from the mom-in-chief of our editor-in-chief. Julie Podulka spent the first two decades of her life in Michigan and the years since then seeing big chunks of North America and Europe.]
My family constantly makes fun of my walls, cabinets, and shelves laden with strange and wonderful souvenirs from our travels. But I think selecting a poster, a ceramic tile, or some shameless piece of kitsch helps preserve travel moments in time like encasing a perfect dandelion puff in Lucite. The souvenir becomes a touchstone to very specific vacation memories. For me souvenirs throw a few moments in time into vivid and high relief. Here are a few of my favorites.
In 2012 my husband and I braved the wildfires that were consuming countless acres of the American West to go camping in some of our most beautiful national parks. During that trip we had a memorable six-mile hike out to Grebe Lake in Yellowstone where a pair of trumpeter swans and their four cygnets were nesting. Later, after traveling through some areas where we were close enough to the fires to smell smoke, I stumbled upon this very appropriate poster.
While walking down Penny Lane in Liverpool we passed by a very old, very derelict brick wall. Chunks of the wall were lying all over the street. Today one of those chunks is resting peacefully in my curio cabinet “beneath the blue suburban skies” of Winfield, Illinois.
Occasionally an “after the trip” souvenir crops up. None in this category is more memorable than my hand-carved Henning troll from Norway. While ferrying all over fjord land I saw many examples of these beautifully crafted trolls, but at $300-$500 a pop those charming trolls were far out of my reach. But, always resourceful, as soon as I got home I hit the Internet. As luck would have it the husband of a woman who runs a Scandinavian shop in central Minnesota decided to put a few of their Henning carvings on sale. Happily for me he neglected to ask his wife if this would be a good idea. Needless to say I snapped up my troll for a fraction of the price shops were asking for it in Norway. Yes, it is a Norwegian souvenir via Minnesota, but it actually makes the story that much more fun!
Sometimes nature cannot be beat. These are “hag stones” from the Pacific shores of Northern Oregon. How did those holes get there?
Once in a while you can get a traditional souvenir in a rather non-traditional way. While
in Meiringen, Switzerland, I decided I couldn’t leave the country without a big, clunky brass
cowbell. Instead of making a beeline for the nearest tourist trap, my husband and I wandered through the side streets of this little village until we found the local hardware store. Sure enough, there were the cowbells that the farmers buy to put on their cattle. One ring of that bell takes me right back to the Alps.
Each and every souvenir has a story attached to it. These little artifacts keep my vacation memories close and fresh. So travel happy, but don’t forget to bring back a travel touchstone.
[Today we have a guest post by Connie Bankus. Connie is a philosophotographer (a word I made up myself!) who lives in Oregon with her husband and a million animals and mountains. You can check out more of her work at awanderingsoul.com.]
A little over a year ago my husband and I moved to Oregon. We packed up everything we owned, dodged tornadoes, and slept in tiny motels in Montana. We drove four days till we arrived at our new home.
We have hiked nearly every single weekend–sometimes two to three hikes in a weekend. We have started out with day hikes, and when we can afford it we plan on buying camping supplies and joining the Mazamas. My ultimate goal is to do the Pacific Crest Trail and to climb the mountains around here.
Like every other new arrival to Oregon, we learned we had never experienced elevation before. We shamefully bowed our heads as seventy-year-olds blew past us on the trail. After a year here we got in much better shape and have learned a couple handy tips like bringing enough water and carrying a pack that is balanced and doesn’t hurt your back. We learned about buying quality hiking boots and lacing them properly. We learned that 1.5 miles may sound short but it can come with a 3000-foot elevation climb that will kick you in the butt. We learned that even if it’s listed in a book we bought at Barnes & Noble it can still be out in the middle of nowhere and we had better come prepared. We learned that we have to earn the beautiful view and some of the best are at the end of an arduous trail.
I think the most important lesson hiking can give is that we are all guests in nature and need to extend it the same courtesy we would if we were staying at a friend’s house. We stay on the trail, preventing the damage to delicate ecosystems or causing erosion problems. We pick up trash when we can and carry out what we carry in. We pick up after our dogs and photograph flowers instead of picking them.
Here are some photos from Burnt Lake in the Mount Hood National Forest. It is a 6.8 mile round-trip hike with a 1500-foot elevation climb. More details about it can be found in 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L Sullivan. I just recently purchased a Nikon D7000 and a fancy Gitzo tripod so I could capture some of the incredible views I get to see. I love it here in Oregon and am so grateful I get to be part of this.
The world is getting pretty good at exporting the experience of itself. Between eight hundred cable channels giving us the sights and sounds of the wildlife and resorts and foodstuffs of every country in the world and travel blogs <ahem> sharing photos and firsthand stories from every single place we go, whether it’s down the street or four thousand miles away, it seems like you can sit at home on your couch and see and hear everything that the world has to offer. If you live in any reasonably sized town, you can probably also order in some delicious, authentic food from one of those places, too, made by people who came to where you are from wherever they used to be and who brought the techniques and recipes and skills of their home fairly accurately along with them.
But there are a couple of things that aren’t so easy to export, a couple of reasons why you have to get up and take your body to other places instead of waiting for those things to be delivered to you: smells and textures.
One of the most powerful memories I have of my first trip abroad is walking up to the Naschmarkt, an outdoor market in Vienna, and being suddenly hit by the green smell of fresh vegetables, the bite of Turkish spices, and the rich, soothing bitterness of hot coffee. I wish we had better words for smells–I always wind up comparing a smell to a color or taste or just the thing that made the smell, which I don’t know is very informative. This is why I say, you have to go for yourself. It’s one of those things that no one can take home to you, that can’t be captured in a picture or a story.
I will also admit here a very embarrassing fact: I am a tree hugger. I have literally hugged dozens of trees. Partly this is because I have a secret hippie pagan side, but a lot of it is because I like to feel the actual texture of the bark. You can sort of see texture in photos, but you don’t really know what it’s like until you feel it for yourself. For example, on my recent trip to Oregon, I saw starfish.Based on how they were coiled and flopped around each other, I assumed that they were soft and pliable, but when I touched them, they felt hard like a shell. Similarly, I assumed that anemone tentacles were just floaty things carried along by the currents, but then I ran my finger along one and felt it grab onto me, and that feeling made it real to me that these are living, thinking, acting creatures and not just seaweed-like bits of flotsam.
And this is true for non-nature things too. I almost always put my hands on very old monuments, castle walls and church banisters, because there’s something about the worn, rough stone that’s been touched by hundreds of years of other human hands that feels special and powerful to me. It’s in those moments that I know, I am here. Others have been here before. Others will come after. We have all been here.
Smells and textures are not always pleasant, I’ll grant you. But they are unique. The trash-and-urine stench of Manhattan isn’t particularly enjoyable, but each time I step out of the subway upon arrival, I know exactly where I am and remember the first time I smelled that for myself, when I was just fifteen years old with a head full of punk rock and Beat poetry. The thick, gritty air of Budapest in August almost killed me, but I’m glad that I was there and know for myself exactly what that feels like, because there’s no decent way to describe or explain it to someone who didn’t have to walk around in it, lost and alone with the beginnings of a fever.
If travel was just about seeing the great monuments of the world or eating strange cuisine, we would never have to go anywhere beyond our living rooms. But travel is about knowing the entirety of the world, and that means using all your senses. Next time you’re watching Anthony Bourdain touring a cattle ranch in Argentina or watching Rick Steves take a boat ride down the Mosul, remember that you’re not getting the full experience. You have no idea what those cows smell like. You don’t know how fast the boat is moving and if the water is smooth or rough. There’s only one way to find out.